What Happened to Accountability?

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For February 20 weekender, 2016

Why Accountability Wanes

David W. Hegg

Many consider the primary philosophical question to be “why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer, while demanding a diligent gathering of facts and a robust analysis of them, forms the foundation of any ethical system of belief. It is only after we understand how things came to be that we can determine how we ought to live. Simply put, our understanding of accountability will necessarily be based on the answer to this fundamental question

When Charles Darwin introduced his theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest – known as Evolution – he set off a revolution, the consequences of which ran much further than the field of science. For the first time in history someone had put forth an explanation of reality that was not dependent on God. No longer was it necessary to posit a Creator to explain the presence of creation.

What Darwin couldn’t have seen was the far-reaching ethical damage his theory would have, especially in the area of holding back the predisposition of humanity to seek its own interests first and foremost. His theory of evolution glorified selfishness and self-determination in that those organisms best suited to dominate wound up surviving.

Leaving aside the debate over the actual scientific evidence for his theory, what Darwin did was offer humanity a dignified way to sever any thought of accountability to a divine Creator, and replace it with a pragmatic sense of accountability to self. Living to please God in light of future judgment no longer played a role in the new science. Now, living without consideration of divine restraint or moral law was identified as enlightened.

Fast-forward almost two hundred years. As I look around my world I see an almost complete renunciation of accountability. And where accountability to society or some institution does exist, every year we hear of transgressors finding loopholes or filing suit to change the rules. Today accountability is a dirty word, defined by many as a demeaning attempt to promote inequality. If evolutionary theory is correct, the primary accountability we have is to self.

In an ironic and brave new world, we have seen an unprecedented explosion of laws and statutes meant to curtail the exponential growth of violence, deceit, fraud, and other demonstrations of human selfishness. Having torn down a societal recognition that we “are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights”, we are now trying to curb evil with legislation. Since God doesn’t exist, and fear of God no longer forms a restraint to evil, then we must do it through laws.

But it is widely recognized that internal compliance is preferable to external compulsion. Accountability is strongest when I restrain my own selfish impulses in order to live in keeping with standards imposed on me by some authority to which I will be held accountable.

And that brings us back to the fundamental question. Why is there something rather than nothing? If everything came to be without God, then mankind has no ultimate accountability except to those social constructs we establish ourselves. And as we’ve seen, these constructs can change rapidly as societal desires evolve. Without static standards of right and wrong, true accountability devolves into pragmatism over time.

However, if everything exists because a sovereign, loving God both brought them into existence, and continues to superintend his creation, then how we live has everything to do with what he commands. And, being both loving and perfect, ultimately what he commands is always best and right for us, even though some of us may misuse him and his teaching in despicable ways.

Ultimately, each of us must answer the fundamental questions of life for ourselves. But, unfortunately, few today take time to consider them, and to search out the truth as to their answers. My hope is this column will continue to push you to think, and think deeply. After all, if I’m wrong, I’ve really lost nothing. But if you think God is a myth, and you’re wrong, you’ve lost everything.